Comfort Food- Round 3; No Boxing

Comfort food season is in full swing here in Central New England.
Yes, it is also Get Back To The Gym Season. Sometimes, though, you just want to eat something yummy without worrying about the calorie count. Something easy that requires no special trips to the supermarket. For Mr. Food It Yourself and I that usually means macaroni and cheese. No, it is not something we eat all that frequently, but as an occasional dietary splurge it is a favorite part of our DIYet.

If you have only ever eaten the boxed “Maq+Cheeeez Dinner” making a pan from scratch will change your life. It really will. Check out how it works.

Start by digging out some cheese from refrigerator. People will argue with you about what kind of cheese you have to use. Really, use what you have around. Shred about two cups of it. A little more or less is fine.

Next, boil some water and heat the oven to- you guessed it- 350F. Everyone has a favorite macaroni shape for macaroni and cheese. The very best shape to use, however, is the one that you have in your pantry. I found a one pound box of tri-color rotini. That will work fine.

While the water is boiling, you can make the Bechamel. “Bechamel” is the fancy word for “white sauce”; do not be intimidated. You can do this. Melt one and a half tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a sauce pan then sprinkle in one and a half tablespoons of flour. A whisk is a good tool to stir it all into smooth paste. The fancy word for this is a “roux”.

Once the roux is ready, whisk in 12 fluid ounces of milk. That is equal to one and a half cups or one typical can of evaporated milk. This is a trick I learned in Food and Nutrition School. Evaporated milk is already heat treated, so it is less likely to curdle during the cooking process. You can use fresh milk, you just have to be a little extra careful about heat management. NOTE: Make sure you grab evaporated milk, not sweetened condensed milk. They are two very different products. Stir the milk and roux over the heat until it thickens. It has then become Bechamel.

Lower the heat and add the shredded cheese a little at a time. Whisk each addition in until it melts. This is also a good time to add seasonings, if you want. I like a few grinds of pepper and a generous squirt of yellow, deli style mustard from a squeeze bottle. Add whatever you like. This is your dinner. Also, your macaroni water is probably boiling by now. If you have not started boiling the macaroni, you should do that now. Once it is cooked, drain it.

Now, it is time to get it all together. The cooked macaroni and cheese sauce go into a baking vessel, along with any add-ins you want. Try chopped broccoli florets, or roasted red peppers, or left over roasted chicken, or diced ham, or whatever. Mr. Food it Yourself and I like tuna. We usually go with two cans, drained. Combine and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until it is all hot and bubbly.

Here it is. It looks about a trillion times more appealing than that boxed silliness and tastes a trillion times better, too. Really, give it a try! What is your favorite macaroni and cheese variation? Share in the comments.